Monday 24 December 2018

Asbestos or no asbestos, please don't call me Johnson Baby Powder

My parents never gave me a Christian name.

I’m guessing it might be because we’re not Christians.

But I still celebrate Christmas. That is, if you can call shopping for Christmas presents for myself celebrating Christmas.

Anyway, I don’t have a Christian name, but when I was in primary school, I really wanted one. I was jealous of classmates with such cool names as “Gordon” and “Rebecca”.

So I decided to just give myself a Christian name. My first choice was “Peter” because that was what a neighbour called me once for some reason. But I felt that “Peter Ong” was too plain and not magnificent enough.

So one day, I wrote on the cover of my exercise book “Peter Johnson Ong”.

Of course, at that age, I didn’t know I had inadvertently selected two words that also happened to be euphemisms for the penis as my self-given Christian names. I might as well just called myself “Dick Willie Ong”.

But I was too young to be aware of the unfortunate genitalia-related meaning of my newly adopted handle to be embarrassed by it. No, the source of my humiliation would be more unexpected.

As my teacher was returning homework to the class, she came across a name she had never seen before. Puzzled, she asked the class: “Who is Peter Johnson Ong?”

Suddenly hearing it said out loud by someone else for the first time, I realised how ridiculous the name sounded.

I reluctantly raised my hand.

“Oh,” my teacher said. “I didn’t know I have a new student.”

The class laughed. I wanted to die.

As she handed me my exercise book, she asked: “Why ‘Peter Johnson Ong’?”

I was too numb to speak.

Then someone yelled out: “Johnson Baby Powder!”

The class laughed even harder. I died and went to Haw Par Villa hell.

After that, I removed “Peter Johnson” from all my exercise books, but for the next few days, my nickname in class was Johnson Baby Powder.

Worse still, every time I rubbed Johnson’s Baby Powder into my armpits for the last 40 years or so, I’m reminded of that childhood shame.

I tried switching to other brands of talc, but Johnson & Johnson is usually the cheapest.

Yes, I would rather relive that painful, ignominious moment over and over again than spend a couple of bucks more.

So I had mixed feelings when I read last week that Johnson & Johnson lost a US$4.7 billion (S$6.4 billion) lawsuit to 22 women who blamed their ovarian cancer on asbestos in the US company’s baby powder and other talc products.

On the one hand, it was about time Johnson & Johnson got punished for my primary school trauma.

On the other hand, I have been using Johnson's Baby Powder all my life. Am I going to get ovarian cancer?

To my relief, on Saturday, Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority said it did not find any asbestos in Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder or other talc products sold here.

Now if only the cruel, cruel memory I associate with the baby powder could be absent too.

I probably wouldve been better off if I had just called myself Dick Willie Ong.

- Published in The New Paper, 24 December 2018